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Thread: Pseudepigrapha

  1. #1

    Pseudepigrapha

    Based on a certain RP, and thus highly self-indulgent. The original plan was to release them all at once with fancy collapse tag formatting, but lol at that ever happening.


    Octapla:

    I: Pilgrimage
    II: Oblation
    III: Vanitas
    IV: Ma'rifa
    V: Theopneust
    VI: Simony
    VII: Iconoclasm
    VIII: Eirenics
    ???: Agrapha
    Fanfiction, on occasion.

    The Blue-Blooded League
    When the Queen's away, the pawns will play. A Lord El-Melloi II Case File.

    /Ep.in lost dream.
    Decoration Disorder Disconnection. Ishizue Arika and Mato Touma. An episode from a hypothetical future.

    Pseudepigrapha
    Snapshots from the world on the eve of the Third Crusade. A Tuitio Mysterii et Obsequium Reliquiarium prequel.

  2. #2
    It could have been a pleasant visit, really.

    It is a crisp summer afternoon, and Veszprém is wearing its best, banners and girdles and mostly clean faces treading the scrubbed and positively sparkling stone-paved way, putting up a presentable front for the first visit of the new queen to the city that the newly crowned simply had to visit so that they could be completely considered and accepted as the sovereign’s consort. A fancy of royalty quickly becomes a tradition so long as it grants the town and its people the feeling that they are made special by that, and the material benefits of that prestige on top.

    Said populace put on their best humbly subservient faces when needed, but it wasn’t like chatter and gossip ever stopped in working spaces and behind closed doors. ‘Margaret seems a fine lady, yes - certainly beautiful - but is it true that she was chased out of England for holding a tryst with a court nobleman? And my cousin’s wife’s sister who is a maid in the castle at Esztergom says she overheard from the Ispán that the new queen cannot bear a child! And it is not that the king is in need of an heir, thank goodness, but to imagine such a marriage! Oh, but you know, she is sister to the King of France, so you suppose there is something in her dowry, or…’

    And so on. Though with King Béla’s successes in establishing the kingdom as a major power gaining him the favour of the plebs, and his succession secure in the young prince Imre, the French queen will eventually be accepted, twice-married and landless potential adulteress as she is. If the black-clad woman currently traversing the streets of the city were to hazard a guess, she would say that with his holdings in Dalmatia consolidated and the forays into the Balkans culminating not in an all-out war against the Eastern Empire, as some had claimed, but a favourable peace and the establishment of a marital tie with the Angeloi - the Emperor, no less - the king had the freedom to allow for less calculating motives to dictate his personal actions.

    She wouldn’t say for sure that it was love. But despotes Alexios had always seemed the prudent, upstanding type.

    With such idle thoughts on her mind, the woman’s feet take her away from the castle district and into the lower residential recesses, both in terms of social class and quality of living. Being far from where the queen’s eyes might stray, there is obviously no need to impose a short-lived transformation on the facades of the buildings, which take upon them an even more gloomy appearance in this hour of nearing dusk. The roads become tracks of flat-trodden and hardened ground, and the establishments too are of an increasingly shoddier build and markedly less refined services the farther she goes from the centre. The woman’s eyes roam over them all mechanically, searching for the sign that would mark the arranged place - her destination.

    After a while, she finds it. A quaint drawing of a hog’s severed head on a tablet to mark the specified tavern. A look inside confirms that it is sparsely occupied, scarcely cleaned, and probably couldn’t be trusted to serve anything that hadn’t either died in unclear circumstances, or whose ingestion would facilitate for one such a manner of decease.

    Well, no matter. She’s met in far worse places.



    This man loves to speak, above all. He will go on and on, in circles and in parallels though not always restricted to any particular structure or continuity of thought, about any irrelevant thing of interest to very few other than himself, lubricating his throat all the while with the drink that he assumes his listener - bless his gracious soul - would pay for. And being a personage of broad knowledge and interests that would perhaps not be betrayed by his appearance, the length of his tangents, better thought of as an exceedingly long and inconsequential prelude to whatever business had necessitated meeting him in the first place, is not limited by a set amount of topics he can expound a wealth of both scholia and digressing minutiae on, but is entirely dependent on how much alcohol he needs to get inside him to finally feel like wrapping up the meeting and heading off to a soft and cozy bed. He cannot be forced to hasten, nor coaxed into a topic he does not yet want to breach; naturally, the wishes of the other party are relevant only insofar as they eventually get the information they’ve arranged for. It is his prerogative as someone that people turn to because only he can provide this service.

    He is the keeper of a bridge that spans an ever-widening gap. Sitting across the liaison with the Church of the West, all she can do is purse her lips, count the stains on the surface of the heavy wooden table, and bear with it.

    “...and it is no exaggeration to say that this task is wholly unsuited to those unlearned to the workings of the original language and the mindset of the era’s writers, who can no sooner perceive a wordplay than its potential impact on a factual statement; to say nothing of the necessity of being possessed with familiarity as regards to the systems that the work touches upon, which could very well seem familiar to the contemporary reader, but in fact utilise the very same words that we use today to connote entirely different concepts! By the fallacy of assuming a superficial equivalence on the level of framework, the work of the most technically competent translator will amount to nothing more than drivel, of no use to anyone but those who would idly fill their head with what they reckon to arcane wisdom, and think themselves wiser for it!”

    Having worked himself up to a crescendo, punctuated by a fist slamming emphatically on oak that sends the plate still holding a half-eaten meal spinning, the Roman lifts the mug to his face, holds his mustache away from the sloshing liquid inside with one hand, and draws a long swig of what is probably the worst ale to come out of a barrel in the entire county. It’s his fifth fill since the start of a meeting slowly stretching towards eternity. He seems to enjoy it too.

    “It is precisely those multitudinous technical intricacies,” he continues, “that make the proving of a true eruditus. I faced the very same issues in tackling the fascinating compilation of natural and magical knowledge that is the Kyranides - and, mind you, I believe I was rather successful. Although in that case, beyond shaping up the stilted style inherent to repositories of accumulated knowledge, it was also necessary to not be overtly constrained by a spirit of absolute adherence to the admittedly remarkable source. As one such repository, the gradual accumulation of lore through its attribution to the semi-mythical literary identity of Hermes Trismegistus resulted in a conglomeration of both corrupted information and mundane superstitions, and the properties and interactions of natural objects which constitute the basis of traditional transmutative thaumaturgy. Thus it required a competent and knowledgeable editor to enforce a presentable order and brush aside the cobwebs of marginalia to cut straight to fact, and the true essence concealed therein.”

    At that supreme instance of irony the woman, her head resting on the back of her hand and looking off to the side at nothing in particular, can’t help a chuckle - which he, of course, takes as agreement. Not that he ever needs it, Lord above.

    “In allegory and symbolism, as with dreams and their illusions, there are always too many unneeded things; too many words, spanning in too many directions that obscure the meaning as much as they mean to clarify it. But they exist not for one to look at them, but to look past them, and to dismiss them out of hand is even worse than failing to grasp the duality of meaning. It is their purpose to be understood. Else, they wouldn’t be allegories and dreams, but pure lies and fantasy. And wouldn’t that be all too terribly unsatisfying?”

    His uncharacteristically indefinite words don’t sit well with the woman. She looks at him from the corner of her eye without turning her head, and the pondering manner in which he gazes at the sloshing drink within his mug convinces her that it’s either an opportunity to get on with matters more pertinent to herself, or at least that a happily prattling braggart is at least better than this inexplicably brooding silence that bring neither any closer to the end of this heavily one-sided meeting. So, there.

    “Do you not suppose I’ve attained some degree of proficiency in looking past the layered folds of meaning, so that you could spare me the tests of patience and take the short track around the labyrinth you call a conversation for once?”

    He looks up at her with some surprise, which is gone from his eyes as fast as a toothed grin shines from beneath his beard. She can only bring a gloved hand to her brow with a sigh.

    “Ohoho, so you think you understand me with only these few years of professional interaction? Are we that well acquainted already? Why, that’s almost as funny as the anecdote of the scribe that spent a lifetime puzzling over the meaning of “aether”! Ha, oh no, no! Better! It’s like that old stutterer’s attempt to reconcile in a unified doctrine the miraculous qualities of the cross with the amulets of the heathens that your flock still hangs around the neck of babies and on the doorframes of your homes. And a serious matter of distinction too, for it would not do to find yourself in need of them, only to have to not know whether it is the cross, the coin with the head of the Macedon king, the fascinum you wouldn’t want to be seen with, or the hammer of the Norsemen that has the best effect!”

    He chortles so hard that the woman wonders whether he will croak it there and then in the most fitting manner possible: never having gotten to the point.

    “Your thoughts are narrow, senex. Where you would tarry by questioning the doctrines of apotrope, one more concerned with immediate matters would simply carry them all at the same time and pray never to have to find out which work the best.” For the first time in this evening, she works a lighter tone into her voice, a bit of tension easing off her posture. “I should hope you’ve never had to either. You would just as well hold an interview with the demon for its strengths and weaknesses first before expelling it.”

    He meets this remark with a sly grin and a tap to the side of his hooked nose.

    “Are you perhaps forgetting who you are speaking to, my dear? I was not always the ferryman of parcels and secrets, or even an ambassador before, and even though these too are tasks few others are suited to perform, it was necessity that brought the change about, not infirmity. If anything, who I am is a sine qua non for what I do.”

    The Roman crosses his arms to his chest and puts up an affronted air, as though his very character and moral fibre has been called into question. It is, of course, theatrics of the kind that he is very fond of, usually signifying the moments where another drink is required to unlock these sealed lips, like coaxing a baby to eat. Though this baby, she knows, isn’t crying just for show.

    For sure he does exaggerate, self-important peacock that he is. Being a trafficker of information and messages across wide and sometimes perilous terrain is nowhere near as difficult for those of their kind as it is for a common messenger. But what this man was before, that she knows to be a very different story.


    The blade of providence, a holy apostate. There is no knowing what those who defy God in the service of God may have to face. If this old codger claims to have faced a devil in the flesh, his word is that of a soldier against the things that lurk in the shadow of man.


    “Oh settle down, your eminence. You need not preach to me about these things, though I would not mind to hear a tale from your venturous youth.” She holds her palms up placatingly, not wanting for him to clamp up and delay matters even further than usual. “Would another fill of your mug placate you?”

    He huffs with all the mock indignation of a child whose tantrum has made an indulging parent yield, and keeps his arms crossed and lips pursed tightly even as the woman across him signals to the tavern keeper. It’s only after a fresh drink is in front of him that he graciously gives up the act, and he sips it with the satisfaction of a battle well won.

    “Well, well, well, if the young are not trying to teach the old how the world is! It is in fact I who should be the one to hope that you never run into such devilry, for it would shame my colleagues of the East for one of Simon’s Seat to perish a fool, draped with gaudy pagan baubles. It is a plain enough tenet to know the nature of your enemy, no? One should never leave things to fate. Nona tires of spinning, Decima always rounds down, and Morta is eager to cut.

    Snip, snip, his fingers cut at an invisible thread of life.

    “Yes, and it is especially troublesome to not be informed about these matters in regards to the demonic. For all that they have haunted man since he began to reason and wonder, we are no closer to an agreement or a full understanding on what demons are or can be. To a theoretical scholar it is both frustrating and fascinating, but to someone directly involved with them, it is a right nightmare.

    “Doddering fools can conjecture all they want about what lives in the air, in the earth, in everything living and inanimate, in dreams and in nightmares, in thoughts and emotions, in the flesh and in the mind, in the shape of gods and men; but all that means nothing when you are confronted with the real thing. That is when you hope to survive so you can write the treatise yourself.” His eyes have taken a strange gleam that has nothing to do with the ale, a glimpse of the man his appearance belies. The man that traverses the continent, across all political and social barriers and rifts, in the daylit and the moonlit world; a twilight walker.

    “I shouldn’t think you include yourself in the first category,” she retorts. “Am I to understand that you belong in the latter?”

    He in turn leans back on the bench, peering at her pointedly from over his steepled fingers for a while, saying nothing. As his scrutiny drags on, the woman could feel the sounds of their surroundings ebb, as if her ears were being covered by cloth. Although the old man’s voice usually wrestled its way up and over the din of any rowdy crowd, what he commands now is a silence that seems to have isolated the table the two of them sat not just from the ones around them, but from the world itself.

    “I’ve come to know them too, of course.” His voice is low but even, easily carried over the muted air. “Sometimes similar to the ones the Fathers of the Church and your own scholars describe, although they seem to all have stumbled upon the same essential misconception. In practical essence, they have it right. What we call the Fallen One’s demons are indeed being of aetherial substance that nevertheless affect the material. Their preferred manifestation is through the flesh and spirit of man, to drive him to corruption and evil deeds. This is the point where the man and the demon are yet distinct, and expulsion of the evil influence is still possible, and truly imperative.”

    Lifting a half-eaten fruit from his forgotten plate, he holds the intact side up to the woman. A small hole in it marks the onset of rot.

    “With man as the medium the evil festers more and more, progressing like any disease left unchecked. Steeping in sin, turning away from humanity, until the body bursts at the seams, unable to contain such a spirit within. This is the point where no prayer or cross can avail the possessed, as there is no longer any distinction between demon and man. With man subsumed, the body no longer maintains its God-given shape, and the demon is considered incarnate.”

    He pauses and scrunches his face, as if the thoughts running through his mind are repulsive to him. The woman leans forward - an unconscious movement of absorbed interest - wordlessly motioning the man to continue, but he takes his time to find his words.

    When his voice comes out after a minute of silence, a shrug seems to indicate his inability - or reluctance - to put those thoughts into words.

    “Well, it’s fair to call it a living nightmare. I should know.”

    For a moment, a pulsing silence hangs between the two. Then, something twitches behind the Roman’s white beard, and the din of the tavern washes over them like waters rushing in, the hypnotic barrier holding it back now broken.

    “Ahh, what a terrible subject I’ve been forced into,” he moans, waving his hand in front of his face as though to clear away the unpleasant thoughts floating about. He picks up his mug and swirls it exaggeratedly to gauge its remaining content, peering in it for effect. “My throat is parched! Drier than the desert of Baetica! I can’t speak another word without some of the old pick-me-up, you understand.”

    Putting such an end to the reverie, the old man drinks deeply, uncaring of the splashes of tawny ale dripping from his lips into his beard. Across him, caught off guard by the mood whiplash, the woman is torn between annoyance and disbelief, her tense shoulders sagging as she visibly deflates. The humorless look she gives him makes no attempt to conceal exactly what the chances that she will buy him another drink are. A hearty burp and a self-satisfied smile in return seem to challenge that notion.

    “Yes, of course,” she drawls. “Take your time to drink, that you may conjure even wilder stories. Only it will be at your own expense. Consider it your penance for stringing me along with that voice of yours.”

    “I have two pieces of advice for you, uncouth one. Deny the tale-teller his drink, if you will, and ask him to pay for it too, but do not discredit his craft. The drink he will forget as soon as he falls asleep, but such an insult endures for long in the memory of those who take pride in their orations. The next time they tell their tales, you might feature in them, painted in the most unflattering colours. Though, hm, not that you would care about how history will remember you...”

    She raises an eyebrow at that, and he scratches his head in annoyance at a reproval falling awry.

    “Regardless, this you should care about. To avoid misunderstandings, a word of practical advice, occasionally even a life-saver. You will find that while difficult to become aware of on your own, charms usually do not have terribly subtle effects. If you find yourself thinking that someone is telling you so sensible that you must obey it immediately, or that their words are the most mellifluous utterance to ever grace your ears, then you should immediately consider yourself under a controlling influence. That, or you are actually deeply in love with the speaker, which is a wondrous charm in itself, but again, I don’t think that you would worry abou--”

    “Your point, Roman.”

    “Well, my point is that I weave dreams, not charms. The attentiveness that you showed to my words for the first time this evening can only be due to your own direct interest in the subject.”

    Her fingers tighten, and she knows he knows. But she has no care for pretense now. She will probably never see him again, anyway.

    “Well, do go on then,” she says, her jaw set tightly. The man shakes his head and chuckles in response to her scrutiny.

    “I must say, I don’t think the information from my dabblings with demonology would avail you much. The ones with which you are most familiar with - those that pass on in myth - we of the West are rather certain have nothing to do with spirits that intertwine themselves with human lives. Their vastly different characteristics aside, the relation of those demons with humans is not a parasitism that culminates in incarnation, but the dominance of one species over another. Predation. Enslavement. A real demon is individualistic and self-actualising. A spirit of evil which nevertheless takes form only in resonance with the heart of man. But the blood-drinkers - beings like the one that the Lord of the Frontier fought in the marble-hewn halls on an Anatolian peak, such that came to be known as ’Death’, like the one the Harlot Empress sealed; those things have nothing to do with humanity. They should have nothing to do with it.”

    “And yet they are a yoke upon it,” she spits out ruefully.

    “So it is. So it has always been. It is an ecological relationship close to a natural law, and those are not simply challenged, much less by one person alone. Should you not be thankful that it need not be challenged? Are you not content to let sleeping monsters lie?”

    Content?” The woman stares at the old man across from her with a flash of anger in her eyes. “You and I know well that it is a looming Doom. which holds sway over our lives by its very existence. Whether we flourish or lie in shambles, there can be no true future while the Old Demon lives. As long as it draws breath, every day that dawns is another step towards an inescapable fate, and any action taken leads only to a foregone conclusion - an absolute end. Any, except one.”

    What the Roman thinks of this, his unreadable expression does not betray, and he only tilts his head slightly in curiosity.

    “And to do that, you would wake it, risk letting it loose upon you all again, and bringing about the very outcome you wish to avert?”

    “No,” she shakes her head. “I would provide the means so that if it ever were to be released - were its bindings finally to fail, or another fool to seek a weapon with power beyond measure - it can be ended once and for all.”

    “Hmm, I see.”

    The old man strokes his white beard, a lifted eyebrow completing the image of thoughtfulness. Realising that she has dispensed more emotiveness than she had intended, the woman sinks back to a restive state, waiting for him to speak.

    “Hmm,” he repeats. “I must say, I’ve read you like an open book this time.”

    “My sincere congratulations,” comes the sarcastic reply. “Since you have divined so well my immediate concerns, surely you can find the magnanimity in victory to illuminate a solution to the matter for those less possessing of your boundless knowledge.”

    “My my, I could bottle your words and sell them for venom. But let’s see here... what you seem to be asking, by way of implication… must be, if I am correct…”

    Each exaggerated pause comes with an even more exaggerated show of rumination, each tap of a finger onto cheek a test of the woman’s patience as the man milks the capitulation that she has offered him for all that it’s worth.

    “I suppose it must be, “do you have any demon-slaying tips to share, venerable Master?” Is it so? Do I have that right?”

    Merry eyes meet a flat stare.

    “Well I was not misleading you when I said the two are completely different. Surely you know how our implements function, and extermination is in essence merely exorcism with no regard for the safety of the body and soul of the possessed. Unless your little problem partook in the Sacraments and prayed to the cross before turning into a godless blood-drinker, the most effective anti-possession techniques won’t have any effect. From there on, heretical magics such as the ones that bound it in the first place are the only practical options, or at least the ones that do not presuppose innumerable loss of life.”

    “And what of weapons,” she asks, and her eyes gleam.

    “Oh? What of them?” the man crosses his arms and inclines back on the bench. “I cannot guess what trinkets the Seat has acquired, but magical items acquired under Roman jurisdiction are stashed into vaults with many locks to keep them in and very few to take them out, or are otherwise… unavailable. One would need to put in a special request to the pontifex with an especially good reason for a heretical tool to be held and used by Christian hands. Though, I suppose…”

    Suddenly finding the depths of his neglected mug deeply fascinating, the man trails off, leaving the black-clad woman to restrain herself from reaching across the table and shaking the overdramatic man by the shoulders until answers fall out of him.

    “In originating from men yet preying on them, and in doing so creating more of their kind, the blood-drinkers are like a disease, a blight upon humanity worse than any heresy. So…”

    He lifts his eyes from the mug, and grins with all the impudence in the world.

    “I suppose if you were to humbly request that his Holiness lend you assistance for this task, he would not quite raise the armies of Christendom for you, but something could certainly be worked out in good faith!”

    Oh for the love of God.

    Burying her face in the palm of her hand did not express a fraction of her vexation; at her own hope that this meeting would be over, at this wilful jester of a man, and at her own predicament of depending on his assistance.

    “You’ve finally gone senile, old man. Why don’t you tell the congregation you aren’t what you used to be anymore, ask for a nice land to retire on. Maybe a few vines to bloat yourself with finer tipple than this rotgut.”

    Not missing a beat, his theatrical indignation roars in response to the challenge.

    “Hah! I right should, if only to not have to suffer the half-wit opinions any ignoramus feels like foisting on me! And to think I chose to waste my evening here than in the company of one fine lady from the queen’s entourage - that would have shown you up several times over.” He shakes his head as if in disbelief of the depths that the offending party’s ingratitude has plummeted to; said party currently weighing the merits of stringing him up on a high precipice to dry until the cold night air makes him refreshed, and the increased blood flow to his head more cooperative.

    “Although.”

    His voice cuts the woman’s thoughts of forced sobriety short. The tone is light and conversational, but there is no trace of playfulness in it.

    “You are right about one thing. This stuff isn’t fit to be drunk by goats; it rather forcibly stirs up fondness for the spirits that we craft back home. I’m especially fond of a Calabrian produce - the closest to a Falernian that I have ever sampled - vinted exclusively for a fine dining establishment right on the port of Messina. It’s a rather exclusive place, but I can give you the directions and my referral, if you’d like.”

    And there it is, thrown out with all the circuitous nonchalance in the world. The woman slowly sinks into her seat, again blindsided by the man - for once pleasantly. Right there is the reason she has come to the heartland of a foreign kingdom for this meeting. This, and that the Roman did not trust to put any information in written form.

    “So it is true. Is it ratified by a consistory?”

    He shakes his head. “No, this is a personal initiative. The Cardinal has no patience for official procedures, nor his fellows for that matter. To paraphrase in brief, ‘by the time a bulla apostolica has been issued, a millennium’s worth of relics will have been thoroughly ransacked and presented to little heathen brats to be made playthings of’. Waiting for however many months it will take for the hosts of Christendom to be raised and the crucesignati marched in answer to the Audita tremendi is not an option either. Jerusalem will be completely emptied and its relics half a world away by then. So it is our good and righteous duty to scramble out and save what we can from sacrilegious hands, no?”

    “But still,” the woman presses on, “it is unlike your ways to show that desperation, and issuing a call for any person, regardless of station or faith, to join a holy mission… and you will stand for them to bear your standard, lay hands on those relics, and trust them to bring them back as well?”

    The Roman shrugs unconcernedly. “I don’t suppose the idea of employing heathens for noble causes is foreign to you? Besides, we only have to lose by tarrying; whether a fatuous band of reclaimers is sent off or not, the items will surely be gone beyond our reach before long. That sets the threshold for success rather low, especially since - you’ll forgive me for speaking the plain truth - nothing much will be lost in ways of the mission’s personnel and materials.”

    “In other words, it’s a fool’s errand. Such that will only attract naive would-be crusaders with delusions of glory, and those desperate enough to take the odds regardless.”

    She cares not to say which category she falls in. He nods at her words, easily accepting them.

    “Regardless,” he says, “we are not sending peasants pulled fresh from the fields and thrown on the road to march with their own weight’s worth of iron on their backs. Consider that this call was issued through certain channels, to ensure that among those who will board the ship to the Holy Lands will be, as much as possible, people like you and me. It won’t be censers and icons that they’ll be safeguarding, after all.”

    “Then am I to assume that I’d be trusted with this mission? I was a member of your rival organisation, lest you have forgotten.” The words are shot back by the woman like a jab, and when he simply swats his hand in the air as if to reject that notion, instead of taking the opportunity to initiate one last repartee, she knows that the Roman isn’t acting like his usual self. Such straightforwardness at the very last?

    “Mutual gain ensures optimal cooperation, my dear. That is the truth I have found in my years as mediator between the East and Rome. And I hope you’ll believe my saying that I wouldn’t make you a duplicitous offer to bring you into the fold and then snatch away the lure. There is nothing to be gained, and I think you’re owed that much regardless.”

    To this front of honesty, the woman doesn’t quite know how to respond. It's not that he has defied her expectations of his character, but their kind rarely feel the need to voice a thought or emotion that can very well remain implicit, or at least up to the other’s discernment. To speak out like this… affectation is affirmation, and that serves for nothing but regrets.

    But still, regret is a memento in itself. Accumulate enough of them and one might form their own bitter proof of living.

    “So,” she intones, “better in Christian than Muhammadan hands, anathema be damned?”

    “No one would complain too much if that came to pass,” he responds. “Well, not within our Order, at least. Because as you can understand, should this quest achieve a semblance of success in these turbulent times for our Faith, the road for the ratification and formal establishment of our Holy Church will finally be clear. That is our higher stake in this errand.”

    The Holy Church. An order that would operate beyond the conventional bounds of the Faith, where sword and spear alone can hardly carve a place. An organisation that currently exists only in the loosest of senses as an assembly of like-minded individuals under the covert guidance of an eminent Cardinal, laying the groundwork for the day when a rival to the East’s Seat of Simon will finally rise, a veiled hand that reaches into places where ordinary humans cannot tread.

    It is the lifelong dream of the man before her, and the goal of the Cardinal that he calls master. Mutual gain, indeed.

    “Well, that’s not a bad plan at all. I’d look forward to our continued cooperation in an official capacity if not for the near-certainty of failure and death intervening with that idea.”

    She stands from the bench and straightens herself, joints popping faintly, before adding in a light tone. “Though it wouldn’t hurt to say, I wish luck for our mutual endeavour.” Though it is doubtful whether it's a true reflection of his inner state, that quip does get the Roman to give a little scoff, before crossing his arms in a relaxed manner.

    “A part of me thought that even in the direst need, you would never willingly join a group of madmen on a journey into the beast’s maw. But what do I know? What can anyone know about other people?”

    His chuckle is probably meant to convey sarcasm, but it rings ruefully instead. The woman stands stock still, waiting for the one crucial piece of information to come; and she is once again duly obliged.

    “On the first day of May, bring yourself to the Duomo di Messina at lauds, and follow the coastline to the piers from there. A dromon, loaded for open sea. I doubt it possible for you to miss it, but the Cardinal standing before it should be another good indication.”

    The woman woman nods at all this, and reaches into the folds of her clothes for the coin pouch, drawing out a gold, concave hyperpyron.

    “These are the last drinks I’m paying for you, old man. You’d do well to stay dry instead of finding charity elsewhere now that I’m gone.”

    That is as much of a parting word as she’s willing to give, but the Roman looks at the coin contemplatively, as if he has only now come to a realisation about something that had been on his mind for long.

    “Is that so. And here I had so many more things to share with you on this occasion - does the fascinating system of quantitative transmutation that the sages among the Iberian Jews have devised not pique your interest? Well, no matter, that might be a bit too technical for tavern-talk.” Though the self-important tone of the scholar is there, it seems more that the man is stalling for time, running his mouth automatically while he searches for the words he really wishes to say. Eventually, he appears to find them.

    “Pray,” he starts, “why do you think you need to go to such lengths? You have no duty to handle this, no reason to risk your life for an abstract fear which is doubtful if it can even be realised. And if you want to serve your Empire, the Old Demon - if it has not already perished in its bondage; if the seal can even be lifted - is the least of your concerns, with the people malcontent, the army in tatters, an incompetent ruler, and the Turk at your doorstep. Surely there is a better use of your talents than sailing into the unknown.”

    He isn’t accusatory or pleading, only recounting a statement of facts. It can’t be said that he expects to change the woman’s mind either. He is only fulfilling another formality, carrying out his role in speaking the words that need to be spoken for this act to come to a culmination and a close.

    “We may live on or we may die. but if this Doom is dispelled, we alone will be responsible for our destiny.”

    She turns her back on him, and speaks no more. In the dim light, her dark unmoving silhouette is like a void in the world.

    Then…

    “Then is this the one thing…”

    A gold flicker shines in the dark.

    ”...that you, who has only ever dealt death…”

    A flash of silver crosses it---!

    “...can give to your Empire?”

    Thunk. The gold coin that was tossed in the air now lies impaled on the hard oaken table by a thin, needle-like knife. The point, buried firmly into the wood, is driven straight through the center of the coin’s obverse.

    The pierced head of Emperor Andronikos is answer enough. And to add to that, it was doubtful that it’d now be accepted as payment. The Roman heaves what he feels is an entirely justified sigh, and speaks one last time at the woman’s retreating back.

    “Heed this from an old and wiser man. Atonement is the most selfish form of altruism. It is of solace to no one but oneself, and benefits only to the degree that the original injury is satisfied. But the ones on whom this injury was inflicted are no more, and they cannot benefit from it. On the ones that remain and know nothing, your sacrifice would be wasted. You seek to right the wrongs of the past, but Theodora, the past cannot be changed.”

    To the end she does not turn, but he sees her shake her head, and the words reach his ears across the distance as clearly as if she was sitting right next to him.

    “Ever authoritative, Pascalis. Of course the past will never change.”

    In the blink of an eye, she is gone. The night wind blows from the outside into the open tavern door, and carried over it...



    “But I will fight to reclaim the future.”



    At that the old man shakes his head and snorts; then, after an evaluating look at the gold coin still pinned on the table, he orders another ale.





    Exegesis
    "Twice captured royal banner
    Twice trodden holy land
    The seal shall lift when fate aligns
    Four Royalties of blood”

    ---Hellespontine Sybil, O.S. 532 AD
    Last edited by Leftovers; August 9th, 2017 at 05:09 PM.
    Fanfiction, on occasion.

    The Blue-Blooded League
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    /Ep.in lost dream.
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    Pseudepigrapha
    Snapshots from the world on the eve of the Third Crusade. A Tuitio Mysterii et Obsequium Reliquiarium prequel.

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